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Predicting the effects of climate change on reproductive fitness of an endangered montane lizard, Eulamprus leuraensis (Scincidae)
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A shift in climatic conditions may directly modify critical organismal traits (such as reproductive output and offspring phenotypes), and experimental studies to document such direct effects thus may clarify the impacts of climate change on the species involved. The endangered Blue Mountains Water Skink (Eulamprus leuraensis) exhibits several traits predicted to imperil it under climate change: ectothermy, low reproductive output, specialisation to a restricted habitat type, montane endemicity, and a small geographic range. Congeneric species exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, increasing potential sensitivity to climate change. We maintained wild-caught female lizards throughout pregnancy under thermal conditions simulating a shift in basking-time availability (3 vs 7 h/day) as might occur under climate change. Females with longer basking opportunities per day gave birth 2 weeks earlier, to slightly smaller offspring, that grew much faster in the first few weeks of life. Importantly, offspring sex ratios were not affected by maternal thermal regimes. Hence, some traits (e.g., offspring size, growth rates, dates of birth) are sensitive to ambient thermal conditions whereas other traits (e.g., offspring sex ratio and sprint speed) are not. On balance, the greatest threat to population persistence for E. leuraensis under climate change is likely to involve in- direct effects mediated via habitat degradation (especially, drying-out of the hanging swamps) rather than direct thermal effects on lizard reproductive output or offspring phenotypes.
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